Zach Braff is probably best known as klutzy doctor J.D. Dorian
on NBC’s hit sitcom “Scrubs,” but with the
upcoming theatrical release of the new film “Garden
State,” he’s sure to surprise audiences with his
maturity and ease both behind and in front of the camera. The
scruffy, likeable New Jersey native wrote, directed and starred in
the upcoming tragicomedy.

Twenty-nine-year-old Braff plays Andrew Largeman, a frustrated
Los Angeles actor returning home to New Jersey after a
decade’s absence to attend his mother’s funeral. While
back home, Andrew, in a sort of post-coming-of-age, discovers
himself and his place in relation to the expansive and sometimes
unfamiliar ideas of home and love.

“Garden State” adeptly deviates from the template of
twenty-something formula flicks. The relationship between Andrew
and love interest Sam (Natalie Portman) progresses at an awkward
but steady pace that is simultaneously interesting and believable.
Sam, a pathological liar, epileptic and hamster collector, meets
Andrew in a hospital room after an oversexed Doberman tries to mate
with Andrew’s leg.

Inspired by Diane Keaton’s character in Woody
Allen’s classic comedy “Annie Hall,” Sam is,
according to Braff, “so happy and high on life and optimistic
and passionate and quirky and just different.” Her
fun-loving, character contrasts sharply with the drabness of
Andrew, who has been heavily medicated for depression since
childhood.

Portman was Braff’s first choice to play Sam: “She
brought so much to the character … She’s very fun and
silly and has so much energy and she laughs that classic Natalie
Portman laugh that’s in the movie a bunch. I mean,
she’s just so fun and happy, and I think a lot of people
haven’t gotten a chance to see that.” He also got his
top picks with the other actors in “Garden State,”
including Ian Holm, Denis O’Hare and Method Man.

For well over a decade, Andrew has been heavily medicated for
depression. Through his character, Braff reveals the possible
dangers that go along with overprescription: “I’m
saying that (Andrew) … got comfortable on something that was way
too extreme for what he should’ve been on, and it just was
like, ‘This is what I know. This is what’s comfortable
to me.’ And he stayed on (the medication). I think there are
probably a lot of cases of people that get really comfortable on
medicine and don’t necessarily need to be on it.”

In the film, Andrew doesn’t take his meds during while
he’s home. The following events — falling in love,
connecting with his father — make a bold statement that
mood-altering drugs don’t necessary aid or hinder
emotions.

“Garden State” includes another element of drug use
— those which aren’t prescribed by doctors. The movie
features a frenzied party scene, which hosts a whirlwind of
cocaine, pot, alcohol and ecstasy use. Impressing and highly
absorbing, the scene is free of special effects — the small
budget wouldn’t allow it. Braff explains how the scene was
shot completely in-camera: “The camera is static and for 10
minutes, everyone is moving around me, and I’m totally
frozen. And over 10 minutes, you’ll get, like, a minute of
film.”

Braff admitted that he doesn’t like cocaine and explained
what he sees as a prevalent assumption about actors: “When I
came back to Jersey after being in L.A. and working as an actor,
there was this vision of my friends that I was rich and drove a
Porsche and had a mansion and did coke and (lived) this Hollywood
lifestyle, and meanwhile I was waiting tables like my character in
the beginning of the movie.”

Launching a new film is risky, especially when simultaneously
writing and directing for the first time. Though Braff has written
several shorts, “Garden State” is this Northwestern
film school graduate’s first full-length project. When asked
to choose between acting and directing, Braff pledges loyalty to
both sides of the camera.

“They’re both challenging,” he explained.
“If I had to choose at gunpoint, I’d choose directing.
I like deciding what goes into the final product. One of the hard
things with ‘Scrubs’ is, sometimes you fall in love
with something you do, or you love a scene, and you see the episode
and it got cut for time or pacing and for the producer, who shapes
the vision of that show.”

Just like the semi-autobiographical content of “Garden
State,” the soundtrack is personal to Braff. “(The
soundtrack) was the music that was really affecting me, so I
thought it would speak to our generation.” Braff wrote
letters to the bands on the compilation, which range from the Shins
to Iron and Wine, and eventually he got “all the bands to
agree to be in the movie ‘cause they would see the scenes
where there songs were used.” When shopping his script, Braff
included a mix CD of the songs he wanted on the film.

Braff views the popularity of “Scrubs” as a foot in
the door to sell the script and get attention from the press.
“The media’s always been very nice to me from
‘Scrubs,’ ” he admitted. “I feel very
lucky, ’cause this is a small movie, and the only way
it’ll get seen in the middle of the country … is if it
has support of the media and word of mouth.”

Preliminary screenings also proved to be a useful promotional
tool as well as a rewarding experience for Braff as the
film’s creator. “The best response, overall, is from
(young) people. You know, I went and showed the movie — I had
a lot of screenings of the movie with quote-unquote young people in
it, but I went to a screening at UCLA, which was all
twenty-somethings, and I’ve never had a reaction like that to
the movie. People loved the movie, but this was like going to a
rock concert,” exclaimed Braff.

“There were people dressed up in garbage bags at the
screening … They loved the movie, and they got all the
little subtle things that you’d never heard an audience laugh
at, that like only maybe someone in their twenties would get, like
they got, and it was just awesome. And so, I love the movie in that
people of all generations are responding to it, but for me, when
people in their twenties really react to it and say, ‘Wow, I
felt like that spoke to me,’ that makes me feel really
good.”

 

Check back next Monday for The Michigan Daily’s official
review of “Garden State.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.